The World War II C-53 Skytrooper dubbed the D-Day Doll climbed into the sky above Riverside Municipal Airport on Tuesday, in one of its first flights after nearly a year out of action.
With test flights completed last week following a fundraising drive for an engine overhaul, the restored Army Air Corps troop transporter’s twin engines hummed loudly, rattling bones and eardrums. An alarm sounded loud and insistent from the cockpit as the plane flew level at 1,000 feet.
A passenger strapped into metal benches that once carried paratroopers watched Commemorative Air Force pilot Richard Hammerschlag and co-pilot Gevin Harrison work the controls and half-waited for the disaster-movie dialogue, “Mayday! Mayday! We’re going down!”
The plane kept flying and the alarm stopped. Soon after, the gear warning horn went off again when Harrison pointed the plane’s nose down.
Smiling, flight crew chief Andy Conley turned from where he was strapped in behind the pilots, gave a thumbs-up and mouthed, “We’re OK” above the engine noise.
Harrison dropped the plane onto the runway. The sham emergency was part of the tests Hammerschlag, an airline transport pilot who once flew for the U.S. Postal Service, was putting Harrison through during his annual pilot proficiency check.
“When we do the training, we simulate an engine out,” Conley said. “All twin-engine pilots are required to perform it.”
The Inland Empire Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, a volunteer group that restores and flies old warbirds, got the plane back in the air after raising roughly $60,000, mostly from members, for engine work and routine maintenance.
“When it’s 70 years old, restoration never stops,” said Conley, the group’s operations officer.
They’re taking the C-53D Skytrooper to the Miramar Air Show in San Diego today. Crowds will get an up-close look at the olive-green plane, decked out with a parachute-wearing brunette pin-up and the name “D-Day Doll” on its nose.
The plane is believed to have made three combat air drops on D-Day, June 6, 1944, but records aren’t complete.
The group named it the D-Day Doll after the plane was donated in 2001.
Inland residents can also see the plane from noon to 8 p.m. Oct. 17 during a Return to Flight open house and fundraiser at Riverside Municipal Airport.
The free event at the group’s hangar, 6936 Flight Road, includes an F-16 flight simulator, kid’s zone, silent auction, music, food and drinks.
The group is raising money to renovate its main meeting room and build moveable displays.
Weather permitting, dinners, receptions and parties are held in the hangar near a snub-nosed WWII AT-6 Texan and L-4F “Grasshopper” reconnaissance plane – and the space is often rented for that, Conley said.
Hammerschlag and Harrison were flying the D-Day Doll to Los Alamitos last fall when an exhaust valve on a nine-cylinder, 1200-horsepower engine broke and punctured a piston at 4,500 feet.
They were three minutes into the flight when the Skytrooper began to shake hard, so they turned around and landed in Riverside without problems, said Hammerschlag, who has flown World War II aircraft for 25 years.
On Tuesday, they flew the plane to Lake Mathews, where Harrison demonstrated making steep turns, flying at slow air speeds and recovering from a near stall.
“I’ve been dreaming of flying these old planes,” said Harrison, a recently retired Air Force C-17 pilot in a tan flight suit.
Hammerschlag has gotten to know the engines’ idiosyncrasies and the sounds they make – and the sounds they shouldn’t – after flying the D-Day Doll eight years.
He liked what he heard, listening to the sound as they flew.
“Everything is like it should be,” he said.